St. George man pleads not guilty in slaying of LA County Sheriff’s deputy

ST. GEORGE — A St. George man pleaded not guilty in a California courtroom Monday to multiple charges of murder and robbery resulting from a series of events last month that included the alleged slaying of a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Solano, Los Angeles County, California, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, St. George News

According to the Los Angeles Times, 30-year-old Rhett McKenzie Nelson was charged with two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and two counts of robbery.

The charges stem from the June 10 shooting and subsequent death of 50-year-old Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy Joseph Gilbert Solano and the shooting death of 31-year-old Dmitry Koltsov, a well known Russian skate and snowboarder, shortly before that.

If convicted, Nelson faces the possibility of life in prison or the death penalty, should prosecutors decide to pursue that course.

Nelson’s courtroom appearance was brief, according to the Los Angeles Times, and his attorney, Jenn Bartick, did not offer any comment. Nelson’s next court appearance is set for Sept. 6.

Nelson had been reported missing by family members in late May. The family published missing posters on social media while also seeking aid from the St. George Police Department.

Read more: St. George man arrested for attempted murder of California sheriff’s deputy

Police were made aware that Nelson had taken a gun with him, but at the time he wasn’t considered suicidal or a threat to others, St. George Police Capt. Mike Giles previously told media following the California shootings. The family said they believed the gun was for self-defense.

Photos taken from security cameras showing a man believed to be Rhett Nelson, of St. George, who is suspected in the murder of a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy in Alhambra, California, June 10, 2019. | File photos courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, St. George News

The family also mentioned that Nelson had a history of mental illness and opioid abuse, though was believed to be clean for around six months prior to his disappearance.

Giles told Fox 13 News that the family had expressed concern for Nelson’s mental state, but without an official diagnosis, there wasn’t much police could do.

“He made a statement to them or somehow communicated he wanted to make it on his own or die,” Giles said.

Nelson would eventually contact his family June 4 and tell them he was in California. Once the Police Department was informed he was out of state, it had no further concern and closed his missing person case, Giles said.

Nearly a week later, Nelson made California and Utah headlines as the chief suspect in the shootings.

Rhett Nelson, date and location not specified | Image courtesy of the St. George Police Department, St. George News

According to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Solano was at a Jack in the Box restaurant in Alhambra, California, on the evening of June 10 when Nelson allegedly walked up to him and shot him in the head. Solano was off duty at the time not wearing anything that indicated he was a law enforcement officer.

Solano died in the hospital two days later.

An hour before that, Nelson is accused of the shooting death of Kolstov in Los Angeles. He is also said to have shot at one of Kolstov’s friends, resulting in the attempted murder charge.

So far, authorities say no motive for the shootings has been discerned.

Nelson is also accused by area police agencies of committing several robberies in the area prior to the shootings.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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